I have long been interested in vexillology (the study of flags). In a way, I view it as one of the oldest and purest forms of graphic design, in that an identity must be presented in a visual format but in a fashion easily recognisable from a distance, memorable and simple to reproduce.
When a flag design competition to celebrate Coventry’s announcement as 2021 UK City of Culture was launched by BBC Coventry and Warwickshire. Naturally I jumped at the chance to make my mark on my hometown.
Coventry has a long and rich history, therefore many things that could be referenced in a flag. The main symbols I considered for the flag are:
Cathedral Spires: Coventry’s three spires have dominated the skyline for most of the cities’ history. This legacy alone makes them a viable candidate but the spires also reference Coventry’s defiance in the Second World War and it’s subsequent nickname of “The City of Peace and Reconciliation” as the old cathedral was bombed during the Blitz.
Lady Godiva: Another old Coventrian symbol, the legendary Lady Godiva has been familiar to all Coventrians since her mythical ride through the city’s streets.
“C” Shape: Not a Coventry symbol, but I want to experiment with using a curved shape to build a C shape. This influence comes from the pictured flag of Colorado, USA.
Industrial Cogs: Coventry has an industrial heritage, with many companies previously or currently located here and a long list of inventions coming from the city. To represent industry I have selected cogs as their circular shape lends itself very well to flag design.
Elephant: Appearing on the coat of arms, multiple sports team logos and every bollard in the city, the Elephant has been Coventry’s animal for centuries.
Phoenix: Another symbol that originates from the war, Coventry rose from the ashes in the postwar era and the Phoenix symbolises this. It appears on the coat of arms and the logo of Coventry University (pictured).
Using the 6 pieces of imagery explained above, I got to work on different designs, above is my shortlist. The colours used are Coventry’s civic colours (red, green and gold) and varying blues (used by the council and most sports teams)
The Top Three
My three chosen designs, from left to right:
The Spires and Stripes: A tricolour featuring stripes of dark blue (representing the industrial past), white (representing the peaceful present) and sky blue (representing the bright future). In the centre three spires pierce the sky as they do in reality.
Godiva’s March: A silhouette of Lady Godiva on her famous white horse looks forward towards Coventry’s future. A spire shape is placed behind her to illustrate this and also references the cathedral spires.
The Elecog: On a primary school trip around Coventry’s medieval buildings I was told that the elephant was chosen as a symbol of Coventry because at the time it was believed it was impossible for elephants to bow due to their size. I have no idea if this is true but the incorrect idea always stuck in my mind and I appreciated what the elephant once represented, I combined this with an industrial cog to create an image that references Coventrian grit. Behind the elephant and cog is a dark cross, referencing the English St. George’s Cross flag.
Unfortunately the competition rules restricted each entrant to one flag only, so a choice had to be made. I selected the Spires and Stripes as my entry. From a design perspective I appreciate that the tricolour style gives it a nice balance with or without wind and the spires create a unique variation on the form.
I also selected it for personal reasons, as a teenager my friends and I used to hang out (read: loiter) around the cathedral grounds. As Coventry is my hometown and vexilology is an interest of mine, it only felt right to go with the option that held the most personal meaning for me.
The Public Vote
From hundreds of entries, my flag was chosen by the UK Flag Institute as one of the six to be voted on by the public. All flags went under varying levels of redesign before being revealed, mine included.
Unfortunately, I came up a bit short and despite a good reaction from many online commentators, my flag lost to the sole Lady Godiva flag in consideration. Nevertheless, this was a brilliant project and I’m happy my hometown finally has a flag!